Garden of England (Seasonal Labour), 2020. Oil on canvas, 140x250cm

An archaeologist, in hygienic plasticky garb, peers over the edge of the cliff. What is she doing here? With her recording notes and pencil, she stands out next to the crowd of bare-armed, baseball-capped fruit pickers and overalled construction workers. They all seem to be hard at work, purposeful, though it’s not entirely clear what any of them are doing except the man in the striped t-shirt, who is reaching up to pick fruit from a vine. The clues in this painting are around the peripheries, though the biggest one is right in the centre: harvest team, in capitals across a blue high-visibility vest. At the top left is the white cliff, which combined with the title Garden of England (the nickname for the county of Kent) tells us we are near Dover: the gateway to Europe and the rest of the world, but also a seat of the fiercest nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiments in the UK.

At the right hand edge we see polytunnels, a poetic mirror to the channel tunnel which lies unseen under the dark blue sea - perhaps the polytunnels are where the fruit is grown that these workers are on their way to collect. The rows, stretching into the distance, suggest the increasing scale of modern agricultural practices. My Dad’s job, contracting on local farms, won’t exist in the future as the farms get larger. There’s a buoy at the bottom right - abandoned relic of trades past, perhaps? Or something blown in from the scene in the previous painting. And then, finally, in the bottom left is the archaeologist. She’s the one trying to make sense of all this - the construction workers lifting their steel girder, the seaside/clifftop location, the seasonal workers dominating the picture. Her concern is of course the layers of time, but she’s so busy looking into the past that she’s not noticing what is going on around her. I’m not sure if she is aware that she’s peering off the edge of a cliff.

Since photographing this painting I added a trowel to the bottom left corner, poking out of the green ground. It was meant to make it more clear that this white-suited figure is an archaeologist, not an environmental health worker in a hazmat suit. I will have to give up that insistence for now, in the midst of the pandemic.